I’m going to confess right up front: I read the ending of THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND first. This happens often with me; I’m religious about reading the ending of a thriller before even getting 20 pages in. It’s my thing. This isn’t my first Jennifer McMahon book, and she has a way of creeping me out early on, so I need to find that strand of sanity to hold onto while she pulls me through the story with my eyes half closed. Being aware of the ending didn’t make the reading experience any less exciting. McMahon doesn’t take a straight path to the end, and even knowing still made it nerve-wracking.
"With most thrillers, I love the crazy ride, and you do get that here, but there’s the psychological element that McMahon does so well. It’s the cruel way she plays around with the characters, letting you see every picked scab and dirty secret long held onto in the dark."
Reggie Dufrane’s life has never been easy. Born to a former beauty queen, she always idolized her mother, wondering at her beauty but never really knowing the woman beneath the veneer she created for Reggie. Having lost her ear due to a dog attack at a very young age, Reggie grew up with one real ear and one fake one, never to be the beauty her mother was. In the summer of 1985, a serial killer begins terrifying the residents of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. When the severed hands of the victims begin appearing on the front steps of the police station, every resident in town waits for the body to appear next. And each time a hand appears, a body soon follows. When Reggie’s mother disappears, she knows that the killer, dubbed “Neptune” by the local press, must have her. When her mother’s hand, recognizable by the scars she suffered rescuing Reggie from the dog attack, is found, everyone waits for the body. Days pass and months go by, but it never appears.
Making the most out of an opportunity to start over, Reggie moves far away from Brighton Falls and puts as much distance as possible between her future and her past. A well-known architect, she is celebrated in her industry but has never escaped Neptune, who haunts her until the day her mother reappears --- alive.
Despite knowing how it was going to end, I still wanted to have the lights on and all the doors locked in the house. With most thrillers, I love the crazy ride, and you do get that here, but there’s the psychological element that McMahon does so well. It’s the cruel way she plays around with the characters, letting you see every picked scab and dirty secret long held onto in the dark.
Reggie is damaged goods, both mentally and physically. Her mother, a woman more damaged than her, is not one to look up to, but she is all Reggie ever had. The summer of her disappearance and supposed murder becomes an eye opener to Reggie, who learns that her mother and the woman known as Vera Dufrane are two very different people.
McMahon doesn’t let anyone off easy, and sometimes I did long for one person without any crazy skeletons in the closet beyond the embarrassing moments in high school that we all have. Those people don’t exist in her books, and that’s what makes them so readable and difficult to read at the same time. Her characters are so flawed that they become believable and unbelievable all at once; because of that, you can’t stop reading. By the time you want out, you’re too far in and you need to know how it’s all going to turn out --- good or bad.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 17, 2013